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Lobster on its way to extinction: industry experts
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 16:05

South Africa: Lobster industry experts are warning that lobster will soon go extinct locally if South Africa continues to allow the species’ overfishing.

A recent extension of rights to subsistence fishers has generated an “open season” on West Coast rock lobsters. This is being exploited by the Chinese and has caused stocks to diminish to a lower level than that of abalone, experts said.

The ZAR347 million (US$47.96 million) industry now supports more than 4,300 jobs.

“Lobster stock is about three per cent of pristine, which is the level needed to sustain fishing. They are biologically worse off than abalone, which is at eight per cent,” noted Shaheen Moolla, the former head of Marine and Coastal Management (MCM), reports Mail & Guardian.

He said stocks began to plummet in 2007 after Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the former environmental affairs minister, introduced “interim measures” to give 1,500 subsistence fishers rights for lobsters. Lobster and linefish quotas were provided, and a challenge to the allocation by the West Coast Rock Lobster Association was rejected by the Supreme Court of Appeal in September 2010.

These interim relief fishers were allocated a 200-tonne lobster quota for the 2010-11 season, said Moolla, now a director of Feike Natural Resource Management Advisers and consultant for the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

“In the Elandsbaai area alone they have already harvested at least 500 tonnes, with more than half the season left. In Paternoster they are removing 30,000 lobster tails a day. If poaching levels are even half that in other zones, we are probably looking at the interim relief sector taking about 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes,” he remarked.

Fishery control officers are largely staying out of the picture, allowing organised gangs such as Chinese Triads to purchase the interim relief quotas and pay a paltry sum for their catches, he said.

The situation is seriously affecting both the domestic and international markets because the lobsters are being dumped at all-time low prices, said Moolla.

Carol Moses, the spokesperson for the Fisheries Department, which replaced MCM in November, assured that the department is working to manage lobster stocks with a recovery plan designed to return stock levels to 20 per cent above the 2006 figures by 2016.

“The 2010 status of the South African marine fisheries report indicates the recovery plans are bearing fruit,” she said.

Since the lobster season opened in November, the department has run 11 special operations yielding more than 335 fines worth ZAR420,200 (US$58,075) and the arrests of 13 suspects.

“A total of 7,866 West Coast rock lobsters were confiscated, 5,000 units from roadblocks, 1,600 from commercial boats and 1,100 from an airport,” Moses reported.

The lobster season will run until 25 April.


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